Six years ago, I bought my first “real” mountain bike – a full-suspension Giant Trance X2 – from roll: (the cool kids always spell it with a lower case “r” and a colon.). I had just finished my first couple of cross country races on an old rigid Trek that wasn’t quite what I needed for the demanding trail riding I was attempting. I was new to Columbus, Ohio and I wasn’t really sure where to head to find a good bike.
My friend, JT, suggested we head to roll:. I was immediately mesmerized by the stream-lined styling of the store. The products seemed hipper and more sleek than I was accustomed to finding at a local bike store. The shelves weren’t jam-packed with stuff and there was plenty of room to comfortably browse their wares. It had the look of an established national brand, but the friendly service that you would expect from a mom-and-pop shop.
When I zeroed in on the bike I wanted, the store’s employees took the time to measure me and adjust the bike to my precise dimensions with the roll: “perfect fit” system. I’m not saying that this is completely unique, but my previous experiences at bike shops were just some college kid eyeballing me and saying “How’s that feel?”
I left the store that day feeling like I had gotten a quality product with great service. But more importantly, my new bike was perfect for what I needed on the trail and it increased my passion for the sport.
Since that time, I’ve been back to roll: a hundred times and I’ve leaned on them to give me advice on everything from tires to helmets.
I wanted to find out what inspired Stuart Hunter, the owner, to get into the bike business.
James: What motivated you to open a bike shop?
Stuart Hunter: I got back into riding about 12 years ago, after a decade or so off the bike and a lot of time at lunch and dinner. I was looking to get back into some semblance of shape, and remembered how much I’d enjoyed riding bikes, and wanted to get back into it. Really as a means to a healthier end. My experience as a customer early on was totally enlightening for me. I’d either get completely ignored, because I didn’t look like a cyclist, or some jack ass would try to sell me the most expensive bike in the shop. It was bull shit. It didn’t make much sense to me that I could get better service paying $2 for a cup of coffee, than I could $200, or $2000 for a bike. So I suppose anger and confusion were the initial spark. Great reasons to start a business!
Were you considering other types of stores or businesses?
Not particularly at that time, but I’ve always gravitated to the idea of starting something from scratch and being my own boss. I can tend to be a bit of a perfectionist, that’s either all in, or all out of something. Probably what makes me so easy to get along with. I was fortunate to have a couple of amazing mentors that helped get me focused on creating, rather than tearing stuff down. So when the chance to start roll: came up, I went all in.
What kind of background did you have that led you down this path?
An agency career in retail brand development, working with other businesses and retailers in developing new brands and new store concepts for them. I always describe it as the best 10 years of practice for what we do now at roll:. Except now we get our hands stuck into all aspects of the business, from the stores, the product, the people. It’s enormously rewarding personally and professionally to play with all the volume controls.
What was the scariest part of opening roll:?
I’m not sure scary is the word, but it’s easy to look back in hindsight at the pivotal moments or decisions that could have killed us at a very early stage. Sometimes just bad decisions. Like opening, and ultimately closing our 2 life style retail center stores at Easton and The Greene. The theory was brilliant. More bikes, in front of more people. But they reality didn’t add up. What people really wanted from us was more connection in and with the community. Something much more authentic, and true to the roots of why we started the business in the first place. We didn’t know at the time how close we came to failing, but after the fact you look back and breath a sigh of relief. I own that mistake. Now we refocus and carry the vision forward.
What has been the most exciting moment?
Getting to hang out and work with a lot of smart people that don’t suck.
Is owning a bike shop a glamorous occupation?
That all depends who’s asking really. I love what we do every day, so for me yes, it’s glamorous and passionate and rewarding. But if deep sea diving, or business tax law is what floats your boat, then probably not.
Is there any time left to actually ride your bike after a hard day’s work?
Yes. Never as much time as we would like, but I think that goes with the personality rather than the profession. You have to make the time for what you love. I love retail. I love bikes. I love to ride. We try to fit it all in where we can.
What differentiates roll: from other bike shops?
People zero in on our approach with roll: perfect fit, and rightly so. But we also reach out to many people looking to get back into riding that traditional, enthusiast-driven bike stores tend to ignore, or turn off from bikes altogether. Which I think is criminal. But there are also great bike shops out there, so maybe I can answer what I think makes a great shop. Connected, passionate people. Great and conscientious service. Exciting and inspiring stuff to indulge in. Delivered in a place that is welcoming and inspiring to be in. We try every day to deliver and improve on all of these to the best of our ability.
What do you see in the future of roll:?
The world is our lobster!
Any new shops on the horizon?
We’re pretty happy with where we are right now. We just opened our first store in Chicago in Lincoln Park in April of last year, which was a huge step for us. I’m really excited about the store and the team we have in place there and see a lot of opportunity to share the love in Chicago. Meanwhile we’re working hard to continue to build our team, and strengthen our business here in Ohio.
What’s new? Any exciting products for 2014?
Man, too much to choose from. I’m a product person and a bit of a recovering bike snob, so I get excited about odd random and quirky stuff made from ‘unobtanium’. For me as a mountain biker, I do think 27.5 is where it’s going. I’m a die hard single speed rigid 29er rider, so was REALLY looking forward to shitting all over 27.5 as the worst of all worlds. And then I rode a few and had to eat a lot of humble pie. Particularly the full suspension bikes and geometry. It just works. I won’t try to sell you, just come ride one. We have a full line up of demo hard tails and suspension 27.5’s at Polaris you can play with.
You recently went on a cycling trip to Peru, tell us about that?
Almost impossible to describe. I could use all the superlatives, and quote all the stats. Ancient this, people that, breathtaking the other. But at the end of the day it comes down to one simple thing. We didn’t ride “cross country”, spent 10 days and rode “across a country”. Life changing.
What were the highlights and would your recommend it to others?
If you ever have the opportunity to follow your passion to any of the four corners of the earth, never ever hesitate. If you have a bike with you, even better.
You can learn more about roll: on their website – http://roll-online.com. Make sure you subscribe to Quickdirt for more great bike content by giving us your email in the right column. You can follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Also, if you want to support Quickdirt or roll: then you should share the link to this interview with your friends on your favorite social media site, forum or blog. Thanks for reading. Keep on riding. -James